The Crucifixion Misunderstood

An article I wrote on the crucifixion for Easter week appeared today on the Crosswalk website. While I don’t like the title they put to it, I do think Christianity needs to re-think the cross. I think we’ve got the story wrong—viewing it from our shame-induced stupor from the fall wanting to appease an angry God—rather than looking back from our redemption as God’s children and seeing the Loving Father resolving our sin in himself. Jesus didn’t die for God. He died for us.

Easter and My Struggle with the Brutality of God’s Plan
Wayne Jacobsen

Something about the story made me cringe every time I heard it, and since I grew up a Baptist, I heard it a lot: To satisfy His need for justice and His demand for holiness, God sentenced His own Son to death in the brutal agony of a crucifixion as punishment for the failures and excesses of humanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I want as much mercy as I can get. If someone else wants to take a punishment I deserve and I get off scot free, I’m fine with that. But what does this narrative force us to conclude about the nature of God?

As we approach Easter, the crucifixion story most often told paints God as an angry, blood-thirsty deity whose appetite for vengeance can only be satisfied by the death of an innocent—the most compassionate and gracious human that ever lived. Am I the only one who struggles with that? The case could be made that it makes God not much different from Molech, Baal or any of the other false deities that required human sacrifice to sate their uncontrollable rage.

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26 Comments
  1. Kirk April 6, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    So good, Wayne. You are most definitely not the only one that had that kind of struggle. Having grown up in the AG and then on to Southern Baptists, I heard it plenty. Even to the point of a preacher telling me eventually GOD’s patience would run out on my failings and he would remove his hand from me. I was already afraid of that hand, so I just kept floundering along wondering who this God really was. I was a couple of years deep in being undone by Father but not knowing that was going on when a friend directed me to your Transition Series. (haven’t you heard that a time or two before?) That began to connect my dots in a way I could have never imagined. Quite a journey, this is. See ya down the road.

    Kirk

  2. Dave A. April 6, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Beautifully said, Wayne. A great message to share. Thank you.

  3. Miami Mike April 6, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Wayne, may I quote from this article on my FaceBook wall?

  4. pat April 6, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I like this part very much: “That was God’s dilemma in wanting to rescue us. The passion He had to cure our sin would overwhelm us before the work was done. Only God Himself could endure the regimen of healing our brokenness demanded.

    So He took our place. He embraced our disease by becoming sin itself, and then drank the antidote that would consume sin in His own body. This is substitutionary atonement. He took our place because He was the only one that could endure the cure for our sin. God’s purpose in the cross was not to defend His holiness by punishing Jesus instead of us, but to destroy sin in the only vessel that could hold it until—in God’s passion—sin was destroyed.”

    But I’m pleased to report that I haven’t run across a lot of this angry God stuff. painting “God as an angry, blood-thirsty deity whose appetite for vengeance can only be satisfied by the death of an innocent.” Not even in my years in the Catholic Church or the Churches of Christ or the Assemblies of God. Maybe I just had good congregations.

    By the way, I don’t ‘go’ to church anymore.

  5. Kirk April 6, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    So good, Wayne. You are most definitely not the only one that had that kind of struggle. Having grown up in the AG and then on to Southern Baptists, I heard it plenty. Even to the point of a preacher telling me eventually GOD’s patience would run out on my failings and he would remove his hand from me. I was already afraid of that hand, so I just kept floundering along wondering who this God really was. I was a couple of years deep in being undone by Father but not knowing that was going on when a friend directed me to your Transition Series. (haven’t you heard that a time or two before?) That began to connect my dots in a way I could have never imagined. Quite a journey, this is. See ya down the road.

    Kirk

  6. Dave A. April 6, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Beautifully said, Wayne. A great message to share. Thank you.

  7. Miami Mike April 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Wayne, may I quote from this article on my FaceBook wall?

  8. Andrew April 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    It was this teaching that transformed my life from boasting of my works to boasting about the cross. Thanks brother for the work you do. I am a changed man because of our affectionate Father.

  9. pat April 6, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I like this part very much: “That was God’s dilemma in wanting to rescue us. The passion He had to cure our sin would overwhelm us before the work was done. Only God Himself could endure the regimen of healing our brokenness demanded.

    So He took our place. He embraced our disease by becoming sin itself, and then drank the antidote that would consume sin in His own body. This is substitutionary atonement. He took our place because He was the only one that could endure the cure for our sin. God’s purpose in the cross was not to defend His holiness by punishing Jesus instead of us, but to destroy sin in the only vessel that could hold it until—in God’s passion—sin was destroyed.”

    But I’m pleased to report that I haven’t run across a lot of this angry God stuff. painting “God as an angry, blood-thirsty deity whose appetite for vengeance can only be satisfied by the death of an innocent.” Not even in my years in the Catholic Church or the Churches of Christ or the Assemblies of God. Maybe I just had good congregations.

    By the way, I don’t ‘go’ to church anymore.

  10. Andrew April 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    It was this teaching that transformed my life from boasting of my works to boasting about the cross. Thanks brother for the work you do. I am a changed man because of our affectionate Father.

  11. David Grant April 7, 2009 at 3:54 am

    I think there are a lot of things that have been taught about the cross that can be revisited. I don’t know how many times I have heard it preached that Father turned his face away from Yeshua based on his cry,

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from the words of my groaning?
    Psalm 22:1

    And yet in the same Psalm we read,
    For he has not despised or disdained
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
    he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.
    Psalm 22:24

    I find nothing in the Old Testament about the sacrifice for sins being anything other than unblemished innocence. Yeshua is the lamb of God.

    It is often preached that Jesus became sin and yet the scapegoat did not become sin but rather carried sin away from the people. Lev. 16: 20-22 I believe there was even a tradition within Jewish thought that if the scapegoat returned after being sent into the wilderness that they celebrated. Not only were their sins carried away but they got the goat back.

    Even Yeshua’s act of intercession in the garden is portrayed with his wrestling with his duty and identity. As if He would have balked at the very purpose which He came to us for. What if it is as simple as Him knowing that no matter how much he loves his children, that many will reject His love and be forever separated from Father and him. His disciples were told that we are to drink the same cup as Him. Matthew 20:22-23 Is the cup our taking on sin or is it to intercede for those who have rejected our savior and to feel the anguish of Father over that loss?

    I wonder if our translations have led us down a hellish path, that is not in keeping with the true life that is found in Yeshua’s gift to us.

  12. Richard Wilson April 7, 2009 at 4:54 am

    It was many years ago that I first heard the the cry “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” is the opening line of Psalm 22 – and I remember reading it and realising what an amazing prophecy it is of Jesus death on the cross – written hundreds of years before crucifixions were even carried out! And this Psalm ends with the words “They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it”. It turned my understanding of those words – and the cross.

    Someone later pointed out to me that Ps 22,23,24 are an amazing trilogy – read in sequence they say so much about Jesus.

    Last night I read the words of Jesus in John 16:32 as he prepares his disciples for his death – and what he will achieve with the words “you will be scattered….. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”
    I now see the Cross is an amazing stunning collaboration planned by the Father and the Son with the Spirit out of the depths of their love for us. Yes Jesus became man, became “sin” and dealt with it – but They did it together – none of this abandonment stuff!

    So thanks Wayne for adding to my clarity on this amazing God we have – one we can trust even as Jesus trusted through that Cross

    Richard Wilson – South Australia

  13. Arthur Sido April 7, 2009 at 5:22 am

    Wayne,

    I am curious how you interact with Scriptures like Hebrews 9:22 “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and Psalm 53:10 “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief”. Actually it seems that your entire argument is void of any reference to Scripture at all.

    God who hates sin must punish sin and without the propitiation of the cross, none of us are forgiven. God not only “wanted” to save us, He ordained and accomplished salvation on the cross through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.

    It is not merely preached but it is written that Jesus Christ “became sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) and fulfilled the demands of the law by nailing them to His cross (Col 2:14). The cup that He drank was the cup of the Father’s wrath, His just punishment of sin. It is hard to read the Bible and not see that God hates sin and indeed all sin will be dealt with, for some it has been dealt with on the cross and for others they will face the wrath of God themselves.

    In our desire to see God as loving and merciful, I would caution us to not forget that God is holy and just.

  14. David Grant April 7, 2009 at 6:54 am

    I think there are a lot of things that have been taught about the cross that can be revisited. I don’t know how many times I have heard it preached that Father turned his face away from Yeshua based on his cry,

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from the words of my groaning?
    Psalm 22:1

    And yet in the same Psalm we read,
    For he has not despised or disdained
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
    he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.
    Psalm 22:24

    I find nothing in the Old Testament about the sacrifice for sins being anything other than unblemished innocence. Yeshua is the lamb of God.

    It is often preached that Jesus became sin and yet the scapegoat did not become sin but rather carried sin away from the people. Lev. 16: 20-22 I believe there was even a tradition within Jewish thought that if the scapegoat returned after being sent into the wilderness that they celebrated. Not only were their sins carried away but they got the goat back.

    Even Yeshua’s act of intercession in the garden is portrayed with his wrestling with his duty and identity. As if He would have balked at the very purpose which He came to us for. What if it is as simple as Him knowing that no matter how much he loves his children, that many will reject His love and be forever separated from Father and him. His disciples were told that we are to drink the same cup as Him. Matthew 20:22-23 Is the cup our taking on sin or is it to intercede for those who have rejected our savior and to feel the anguish of Father over that loss?

    I wonder if our translations have led us down a hellish path, that is not in keeping with the true life that is found in Yeshua’s gift to us.

  15. Richard Wilson April 7, 2009 at 7:54 am

    It was many years ago that I first heard the the cry “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” is the opening line of Psalm 22 – and I remember reading it and realising what an amazing prophecy it is of Jesus death on the cross – written hundreds of years before crucifixions were even carried out! And this Psalm ends with the words “They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it”. It turned my understanding of those words – and the cross.

    Someone later pointed out to me that Ps 22,23,24 are an amazing trilogy – read in sequence they say so much about Jesus.

    Last night I read the words of Jesus in John 16:32 as he prepares his disciples for his death – and what he will achieve with the words “you will be scattered….. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”
    I now see the Cross is an amazing stunning collaboration planned by the Father and the Son with the Spirit out of the depths of their love for us. Yes Jesus became man, became “sin” and dealt with it – but They did it together – none of this abandonment stuff!

    So thanks Wayne for adding to my clarity on this amazing God we have – one we can trust even as Jesus trusted through that Cross

    Richard Wilson – South Australia

  16. Bill Ooms April 7, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Great article, lousy title. If I had come upon the title while surfing the internet, it would not have attracted me to read further.
    Quite by coincidence, I was reading Colossians this morning. It’s all there! Keep up the good work, Wayne.

  17. Arthur Sido April 7, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Wayne,

    I am curious how you interact with Scriptures like Hebrews 9:22 “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and Psalm 53:10 “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief”. Actually it seems that your entire argument is void of any reference to Scripture at all.

    God who hates sin must punish sin and without the propitiation of the cross, none of us are forgiven. God not only “wanted” to save us, He ordained and accomplished salvation on the cross through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.

    It is not merely preached but it is written that Jesus Christ “became sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) and fulfilled the demands of the law by nailing them to His cross (Col 2:14). The cup that He drank was the cup of the Father’s wrath, His just punishment of sin. It is hard to read the Bible and not see that God hates sin and indeed all sin will be dealt with, for some it has been dealt with on the cross and for others they will face the wrath of God themselves.

    In our desire to see God as loving and merciful, I would caution us to not forget that God is holy and just.

  18. Wayne April 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Arthur,

    I can interact with those Scriptures just fine without the punishment overtone. In fact some of them discount your position. 2 Cor. 5 doesn’t say Jesus was made guilty for our sins and punished, but that he became sin itself to effect reconciliation. God’s wrath wasn’t about punishing sin, it was about “condemning sin in the likeness of sinful flesh.” God always knew that death is not only the fruit of sin, but the cost of its undoing. Certainly many Old Testament Scriptures look forward to the cross as a punishment of sorts to square accounts with God, but remember they were looking forward to the cross through the grid of their shame. The writers of the New Testament looking back at the cross, now free from shame, didn’t see it as a punishment to satisfy God’s need for justice, but an act of love to redeem broken humanity. God’s wrath is not his anger needing to be satisfied; but his passion to liberate man from sin. It doesn’t exist in opposition to his love, but the fullest expression of it. If you want more on this with the corroborating Scriptures you might read the third section of HE LOVES ME, or listen to TRANSITIONS (a free download) at .

  19. Bill Ooms April 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Great article, lousy title. If I had come upon the title while surfing the internet, it would not have attracted me to read further.
    Quite by coincidence, I was reading Colossians this morning. It’s all there! Keep up the good work, Wayne.

  20. Wayne April 7, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Arthur,

    I can interact with those Scriptures just fine without the punishment overtone. In fact some of them discount your position. 2 Cor. 5 doesn’t say Jesus was made guilty for our sins and punished, but that he became sin itself to effect reconciliation. God’s wrath wasn’t about punishing sin, it was about “condemning sin in the likeness of sinful flesh.” God always knew that death is not only the fruit of sin, but the cost of its undoing. Certainly many Old Testament Scriptures look forward to the cross as a punishment of sorts to square accounts with God, but remember they were looking forward to the cross through the grid of their shame. The writers of the New Testament looking back at the cross, now free from shame, didn’t see it as a punishment to satisfy God’s need for justice, but an act of love to redeem broken humanity. God’s wrath is not his anger needing to be satisfied; but his passion to liberate man from sin. It doesn’t exist in opposition to his love, but the fullest expression of it. If you want more on this with the corroborating Scriptures you might read the third section of HE LOVES ME, or listen to TRANSITIONS (a free download) at .

  21. Andy W. April 8, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Wayne,

    Really enjoy the article. You know, this is actually how the Eastern Orthodox view Atonement, so all you’re really teaching is what the earliest followers of Christ taught and believed. The penal substitutionary view is very reformational and reflects the views of western enlightenment. I have found it very helpful to study the early fathers and Eastern Orthodox theology. While I’m not EO, their teaching on the atonement and original sin are helpful for protestants who grew up with your same struggle.

  22. Andy W. April 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Wayne,

    Really enjoy the article. You know, this is actually how the Eastern Orthodox view Atonement, so all you’re really teaching is what the earliest followers of Christ taught and believed. The penal substitutionary view is very reformational and reflects the views of western enlightenment. I have found it very helpful to study the early fathers and Eastern Orthodox theology. While I’m not EO, their teaching on the atonement and original sin are helpful for protestants who grew up with your same struggle.

  23. pat April 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I’m hesitant to get into “disputes about words,” because we all know what that does to the hearers. However, the “struggle” here seems to be with the word “punishment.” Perhaps the word “payment” might be more understandable in the the context of the Atonement.

    In any case, it is God’s very nature–His love, holiness, justness, mercy, and more–that obviously called for “something” to be sacrificed as an atoning measure. And God chose just the perfect solution by providing the cure (as Wayne’s analogy states) to the only one who could endure it, His own Son.

    Whatever we call it, we believe “the Deed was done that shook the and veiled the sun”: Jesus was crucified, He became sin and now our sins, and sin itself are nailed to the Cross. But that’s not the end of the story, for He arose!

    Praise God, Jesus Christ arose.

    And even that’s not the end of the story, for now we can walk in newness of life. let’s get on with it.

  24. pat April 12, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Oh, fudge!

    I left out the word “earth.”

    The quote I used from an old hymn should be we believe “the Deed was done that shook the earth and veiled the sun.”

    Happy Easter.

  25. pat April 12, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    I’m hesitant to get into “disputes about words,” because we all know what that does to the hearers. However, the “struggle” here seems to be with the word “punishment.” Perhaps the word “payment” might be more understandable in the the context of the Atonement.

    In any case, it is God’s very nature–His love, holiness, justness, mercy, and more–that obviously called for “something” to be sacrificed as an atoning measure. And God chose just the perfect solution by providing the cure (as Wayne’s analogy states) to the only one who could endure it, His own Son.

    Whatever we call it, we believe “the Deed was done that shook the and veiled the sun”: Jesus was crucified, He became sin and now our sins, and sin itself are nailed to the Cross. But that’s not the end of the story, for He arose!

    Praise God, Jesus Christ arose.

    And even that’s not the end of the story, for now we can walk in newness of life. let’s get on with it.

  26. pat April 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Oh, fudge!

    I left out the word “earth.”

    The quote I used from an old hymn should be we believe “the Deed was done that shook the earth and veiled the sun.”

    Happy Easter.

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